Angel Wings and Herb Tea

Life after loss; healing through creativity, writing and art

The scent of flowers


Well scents generally. Where do they take you? How can it happen so quickly? One minute you’re walking down the street aged forty two, with …and the next moment you’re back in the school toilets aged five. Yes really, that did happen to me the other day…a wisp of scent from who knows where, that provided the same olfactory experience as the toilet cleaner used in Colerne Primary School in 1976. So, so strange..I walked back over the spot where the scent lingered and there it was again. Inhaling, I even conjured my friend Yvette who came from Cyprus and the little girl who was always in the loo because she had something wrong with her kidneys. Who I had sealed in some dark lost part of my memory for nearly forty years.

I began wondering if she was still alive and how we used to play with the toy shop in class and how all the pretend fruit was painted over with shiny paint which always cracked to reveal crumbly white plaster underneath. And the exact feel of the scratched plastic water beakers from the dinner hall on my mouth, and tepid milk in tiny glass bottles…and… you see, just from a whiff of loo cleaner.

It’s not just places and people, it’s feelings and emotions. The scent of mock orange blossom for example, just a whisper on the breeze in the park, and a wave of depressed melancholy trickles over me, the lonely despondancy of  mid teens when I wandered for hours around the abandoned gardens of an old art college, desperately wishing for Something to Happen to me….preferably male! ! Excerpt from diary of the mock orange blossom era,

‘I feel like a washed out gourd, round, with nothing inside apart from hopeless wishes’

Herb Robert Flower Fairy

The pungent smell of Herb Robert….happy dog walks in the lanes of Witshire when I was about five or six. I love the smell of this beautiful wayside plant, and always point it out to anyone I happen to be with. No one shares my enthusiasm for the smell, but for me it is comforting and safe, a good time in my childhood.

And the strong, aromatic smell of Elecampane root cooking is unforgettable for me. Recently I even recognised the smell in a blind test among several practising herbalists who failed to identify it by scent. The only reason is because I was immediately transported to a rat infested cabin on an island off British Cloumbia, where I boiled some up for the first time to cure a cough over twenty years ago. There in a flash! And all the passionate, complex relationships that were brewing at the time too along with the Elecampane tea!

Sometimes, if the memory triggered is a very precious one, I try not to search out the smell too often. I don’t want the experience of memory to be diluted, or even sullied with another , more recent or trivial moment. Like Lilies, obviously. When my daughter Lily was born I didn’t really have a thing about them particularly. She would always spot them proudly if we were looking round a garden, but although I liked them they never had any real emotional significance for me when I passed their intoxicating scent.


Of course, now they do….around the time of Lily’s death, nearly six years ago (and that’s something I can’t fathom) we were swamped with Lilies, great bunches of them festooned our tiny home in the woods. The whole of that strange ethereal time out of time, was infused by the scent of Lilies, and now, I ration myself to smelling them only a few times a year. I buy some for her birthday and anniversary, and sometimes allow myself to sniff a Lily in passing a florist.  The memories are so exquisitely precious, excruciatingly painful and also strangely filled with love and a great widening of reality; that I don’t want to reduce them to daily mundanity.  It feels like a great privilege to smell a Lily

This time of year, approaching Lily’s anniversary,  feels tender and raw,  yet also graceful and expansive as if I am treading on gossamer with  whole realms swirling around me which I can’t yet put a name to. My perceptions are in a heightened state and magic starts to shimmer at the edges of my daily life.

But it’s the foxgloves which get me every year. Not the scent, because they don’t really have a perceptible smell, but they are so bound up with her last week on earth. I always know the time is coming  when they are blooming.


So much of my life is bound up with shallow, quite trivial thoughts, concerning necessary daily practicalities, but the scent of flowers is a gateway to my heart centre, like an arrow darting straight into a  shining sparkle of emotion, or a slough of depression or great lake of grief. I’m so grateful for these reminders, so pleased to be stopped in the middle of my mind chattering day to feel, and remember.

Although I’m still not sure where the loo cleaner scent  came from!

What memories are triggered for you by sudden scents? Home made marmalade or creosote? Seaweed or roses?


6 thoughts on “The scent of flowers

  1. Thanks Hen, A few years ago when I moved from Ireland to Exeter, I had an amazing experience of the olfactory kind. I was walking near the cathedral along a pathway and picked up this amazing scent. I didn’t know what it was at first so I had to walk back and forth to find which plant it was. It was the flowering blackcurrent and It brought me right back to early childhood on the boreen (farm pathways) where I grew up. Its like i could taste and reexperience my still childhood. Thanks for the reminders.

    Also the foxgloves, which my father called fairy temples (just follow the yellow brick road – inside the flower) is a reminder of Lily. That Wednesday I remember so well when I spoke to you and Lily outside the school and you were going home to have a quiet afternoon, Lily was hugged in close to you with so much love. Just feels like it was yesterday. Time has a strange quality to it. Perhaps some moments are timeless as we go beyond space and time and touch the liminenal spaces between lives. And its hard to fathom all these years that have somehow passed. Sending you a big hug and lots of love.

    I hope its all going well in Exeter, please send me your address,
    love, Katrina xxx

    • Beautiful Katrina, how lovely to hear about that…scents do bring back the most intense, vivid memories. Only today I finally met someone who likes the smell of Herb Robert as much as me, and it brings child hood memories for him too. I think you’re right about time, maybe it isn’t as linear as we like to make out.
      Thank you for your memory of Lily, that was very special xx

  2. I’m having a chuckle over the “rat-infested cabin!”

  3. I have to say that my ‘guilty pleasure’ since moving to Ireland is the smell of the turf fire. It’s earthy, evocative scent sees me walking through the town inhaling deeply. I am transported to arriving at Granny’s house here as a child and now my own children breathe the scent in too. Oisín recently said he wished he could eat it and I know exactly what he means! Beautiful writing as always Hen xx

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